- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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The Dominator was due to make a base salary of $8 million for the upcoming season and would have been due another $1 million if the club won the Stanley Cup. Perhaps knowing he had put the organization in a bit of a bind, Hasek renegotiated his deal, lowering his base salary to $6 million and changing his bonus structure. Now, he'll get $500,000 if the club advances past the second round of the playoffs, another $500,000 if the Wings capture the Western Conference title, and $1 million more if they win the Stanley Cup. The new deal will save the Ilitch family at least $1 million and as much as $2 million -- money they can put toward Curtis Joseph's paycheck, which the Wings will likely have to pick up some of as part of any trade.
Three players and an agent
One of the most important men in St. Paul, Ottawa and Pittsburgh the last few weeks has been L.A.-based agent Allan Walsh. Walsh represents Wild right winger Marian Gaborik, Senators right winger Martin Havlat and Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was selected first overall in the 2003 entry draft.
In the past, Walsh has been an excellent dealmaker. In August, Walsh had little trouble negotiating a deal between client/left wing Milan Michalek (the sixth overall pick in 2003) and the Sharks. The current economic climate around the league, however, has made these particular negotiations a bit tougher. On the ice, the stalemate between the Wild and Gaborik could have the most impact on the standings. Minnesota needs its franchise forward if the club is going to repeat its surprising playoff success. The problem is Gaborik's off-the-charts success during his first three pro seasons. On a defensive-minded club, Gaborik has posted 78 goals and 168 points in 230 regular season games. He finished second in scoring during his first postseason experience -- 17 points in 18 games -- while battling through shoulder and abdominal injuries. The club would probably like to compare Gaborik to Tampa center Brad Richards, who signed a new deal in August that will pay him $2.4 million this season. While Richards has posted similar regular-season stats in his first three years, Gaborik is a more dynamic player with greater potential.
Unlike the Wild, the talent-loaded Senators can probably afford to let Havlat sit for a while. Havlat is currently working out with the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League while he waits for Walsh to strike a new deal with the Sens.
The Pens, meanwhile, signed Fleury, who under the current system could have become an unrestricted free agent in 2005 because he was drafted as a "late birthday." Players must turn 18 by Sept. 15 to be eligible for that year's draft. If they aren't signed within two years, they go back in the draft. Players who were born after Sept. 15 of that same calendar year -- Fleury was born Nov. 28 -- are eligible for the following year's draft. If they aren't signed within two years, they're declared unrestricted free agents. Fleury's unique bargaining position forced the Penguins to ante up or risk losing him. The cash-strapped Penguins weren't thrilled about caving in to Fleury, but they didn't have much choice. Hopefully, for the club's sake, Fleury can become just the second 18-year-old stopper in recent memory to make a difference. The last? Tom Barrasso.
Around the Hrinks
• Speaking of goalies, the Thrashers have three NHL caliber stoppers after dealing for Jani Hurme, who now joins Pasi Nurminen and veteran Byron Dafoe in Atlanta. GM Don Waddell likely will deal one of the three for a forward. The Thrashers also have their goalie of the future, 2002 top draft pick Kari Lehtonen, playing full time in Chicago of the AHL this season.
• In light of the free agent defection of center Joe Nieuwendyk (to the Leafs), the Stanley Cup champion Devils hope lanky pivot Mike Rupp is ready for prime time. Rupp, who scored the opening goal in the Devils 3-0 win in Game 7 of last spring's Stanley Cup final, has the size (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) and skill to be impact player, but the 23-year-old Cleveland-native needs to master the mental game and bring a more consistent effort to the rink. Coach Pat Burns sent another message to Rupp during the club's final preseason game, benching him for a good portion of the contest. If Rupp isn't ready to make a regular contribution, GM Lou Lamoriello might have to go shopping for another center.
• Predators rookie right winger Jordin Tootoo, who will be the first Inuit to play in the NHL, created quite a stir during the preseason. A fireplug at 5-9, 195-pounds, Tootoo consistently finished his checks, irritated opponents into bad penalties and fights and figured in a few goals. Tootoo should quickly become a cult hero in Nashville. He'll also make the Preds a lot more fun to watch.
• Blues rookie winger Peter Sejna, last season's Hobey Baker Award winner, is getting excellent reviews from his teammates, who rave about his shot. He could start the season on a line with playmaking center Doug Weight. If he does, he'll have an excellent chance to put up Calder Trophy-type numbers.
• The Ducks will face some early adversity due to the loss of rock-steady defenseman Keith Carney, who broke his right foot during the preseason and will likely miss the first month of the season. To ease the pain, GM Bryan Murray plucked D-man Todd Simpson from the Coyotes during the waiver draft. Simpson will help, but he isn't Carney.
• Stars center/right winger Jason Arnott enjoyed his best NHL seasons on the "A-Line" in New Jersey with Czech-born wingers Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora. Now, in Big D, Arnott would like to try his luck with a couple of Finnish-born players. Arnott told coach Dave Tippett that he wouldn't mind playing with second-year forward Niko Kapanen and rookie winger Antti Miettinen. If this new trio clicks, the Stars' offense might be all but impossible to stop.
• Finally, who's going to win the Cup? Well, I like the Senators, who nearly toppled the eventual champion Devils in the Eastern Conference final series last May. Then again, I picked the Sharks last season. Remember: wager at your own risk.
14dScott Burnside and Craig Custance